‘Into Forever’ – Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra


MANCHESTER-based trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Matthew Hallsall appears to have played a masterstroke with The Gondwana Orchestra’s new album, Into Forever.

The chilled, slowly-shifting soundscapes of Matt’s previous releases, though hugely popular with audiences, have not especially struck a chord with me; the spiritual koto-and-harp atmospheres of 2014’s album When The World Was One and more recent EP Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile sounding particularly ambient, even soporific. But the realisation of a long-held desire to work with vocalists has, like a smouldering taper to a wick, brightly ignited Halsall’s compositional skills here like never before.

Halsall first met Manchester ‘soul poet’ Josephine Oniyama whilst collaborating on a BBC Radio 3 programme, consequently sparking his imagination – and in enlisting both Oniyama and vocalist Bryony Jarman-Pinto, along with a string ensemble, something beautiful (and often pleasingly retro in feel) has occurred. Blending the nine-piece Orchestra’s world/jazz hues with these new colours, there’s an awakening of sound whose multiplicity recalls Air (of Moon Safari fame), Nils Frahm, The Cinematic Orchestra… and going back further, glimmers of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.

The 11-track sequence is introduced by Josephine Oniyama’s strong, clear vocal in Only a Woman – illustrating a daughter’s eventual role reversal in caring for her elderly mother, its gently buoyant pulse is tempered by lush strings and shimmering harp glissandi. And the memorable octave-vocal of As I Walk – at steady-though-hypnotic walking pace marked out by strings and deliberate percussion – is finely decorated by harp and wordless backing. Serene interludes are to be found along the way, Dawn Horizon heralding the especially engaging Badder Weather, its Santana-like groove illuminated by Oniyama’s emphatic vocal delivery. These Goodbyes reveals a deep, cinemascopic yearning (dedicated to the passing of one of Halsall’s friends and supporters), whilst fast-travelling The Land Of is clearly pictorialised by complex, clattering drums and percussion, as well as deliciously mystic flute which, in following Longsham Temple, evocatively pitch-bends the slower melodies, perhaps suggesting a long journey’s arrival.

Brief interlude Cushenden is majestically oriental, its strings resembling the world music explorations of Kronos, and title track Into Forever becomes meditative in its combination of Josephine’s Oniyama’s vocal lines and Halsall’s blue trumpet, upheld by delicate harp ostinati and droplet piano elaborations. Similarly transcendental Dean Park (prompted by an outdoor Tai Chi class the trumpeter witnessed in Taiwan) suggests the quietly-flowing streams of a Chinese garden, complete with bell-like chimes, which Halsall’s smooth improvisations pervade. And to close, Bryony Jarman-Pinto’s quirky, inflected vocals animate Jamais Vu (a fascinating voice which should be employed more extensively in later projects).

Still with Matthew Halsall’s trademark Eastern-flavoured ambience, this is a recording whose new-found vocal richness suggests further possibilities for development, and is sure to be a hit with established fans.

Released on 2 October 2015, Into Forever is available in CD, 12″ vinyl and digital formats from Hallsall’s own label, Gondwana Records (at Bandcamp) as well as online and in record stores.


Matthew Halsall trumpet
Lisa Mallett flute
Rachael Gladwin harp
Keiko Kitamura koto
Taz Modi piano
Gavin Barras bass
Luke Flowers drums
Sam Bell percussion
Chris Cruiks percussion
Josephine Oniyama vocals
Bryony Jarman-Pinto vocals
Margit Van Der Zwan cello
Natalie Purton viola, violin
John Purton violin
Jote Osahn violin
Ollie Izod violin


Gondwana Records – GONDCD013 (2015)

‘Return to the Fire’ – Tim Garland


THERE’S a school of thought that says you should never go back – y’know, that was then, and now is now. But thank goodness the rule book can occasionally, for all the right reasons, be ripped up and emphatically trodden into the ground!

Back in 1995, rising British saxophonist Tim Garland began to put together and record his fourth solo project, Enter the Fire, with colleagues Jason Rebello (piano), Mick Hutton (bass) and Jeremy Stacey (drums), as well as bringing Gerard Presencer (trumpet, flugelhorn) into the fold; and the album was eventually completed and released in 1997. Garland recalls how, soon after, whilst staying at the New York apartment of vibraphonist Joe Locke, the pianist Billy Childs turned up – and, on hearing the album, requested a copy to give to a friend… who just turned out to be jazz icon Chick Corea. Thus began Tim Garland’s long friendship with Corea (quoted as saying of the saxophonist, “I wanted some of that fire in my band”) and consequently, many years of shared international success which show no sign of waning.

Twenty years down the line, now greatly-renowned UK saxophonist and composer Garland has rekindled the excitement of that significant moment by re-connecting with the same personnel, along with guest appearances from newer names on the scene – Tom Farmer, James Maddren and Ant Law – plus respected bassist Laurence Cottle. The result is a new 40-minute recording which focuses on the revered (and now resurgent) era of vinyl, offering a combination of four originals and two arrangements which, whilst redolent of late ’90s and earlier acoustic strains of straight-ahead jazz, feel as relevant and as fresh as ever, especially with a final, more contemporary flourish.

Tim Garland has long possessed an unmistakable signature sound – his assured vibrato and a no-holes-barred approach to lyrical phrasing, whilst also scaling the topmost heights of the register – and this album continually flows and coruscates to that potent combination, as well as affording the whole band the space to stretch out. Nine-minute opener Abiding Love achieves exactly that, its classic sound bubbling to the smooth meld of tenor and flugel against Rebello’s crystalline piano, which Presencer then cuts through with customary, tonally-bright trumpet improvisation. J.J. Johnson’s Lament is the perfect platform for Garland’s rich, characterful tenor lead (as the melodies begin to cascade freely, it really couldn’t be anyone else) with such a wonderfully spacial quality created by his quartet of Rebello, Farmer and Maddren. And title track Return to the Fire swings with unequivocal verve, led by Rebello’s sparkling runs – as if to proudly state “we’re back” – and certainly not withholding anything as Stacey’s deliberate drum rhythms cleverly shift gear into a pulsating final section.

Beautifully inquiring Valse pour Ravel somehow suggests the freedoms of a Pat Metheny / Lyle Mays composition, with Garland taking an eloquent soprano lead over romanticised piano, and Presencer’s flugel dreamily intertwining or magically dancing in unison. McCoy Tyner’s sumptuous Search for Peace remains one of jazz’s most haunting melodies, and here it develops into a particularly engaging, near-ten-minute exploration as Garland’s tenor revels in its unhurriedness, with Rebello taking the Tyner role exquisitely. To close, All Our Summers ripples to complex bass clarinet and electric guitar riffs over jabbing Fender Rhodes (Garland an especially versatile and colourful exponent of the bass clarinet) in a groove that perhaps harks back to those early NYC days, and almost fading before its time.

Released by Edition Records on 2 October 2015, Return to the Fire is available only in 12″ vinyl and digital download formats – at Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores. The lack of CD physicality might hinder some collectors, but this is a recording whose confidence, fluency and out-and-out jazz feel-good becomes irresistible.


Tim Garland saxophones, bass clarinet
Jason Rebello piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerard Presencer trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 5)
Jeremy Stacey drums (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Mick Hutton double bass (tracks 1, 4 & 5)
Tom Farmer double bass (tracks 2 & 3)
Laurence Cottle electric bass (track 6)
James Maddren drums (tracks 2 & 6)
Ant Law guitar (track 6)


Edition Records – EDNLP1063 (2015)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time


THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.


Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ


MSTCD002 (2015)

‘Layer Cake’ – Jeff Herr Corporation


LUXEMBOURG DRUMMER Jeff Herr’s Corporation has been in existence for some twelve years, though only since 2012 in this energetic acoustic trio format with saxophonist Maxime Bender and double bassist Laurent Payfert.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Jeff Herr
Laurent Payfert bass
Maxime Bender saxophones


Igloo Records – IGL 259 (2014)

‘Cielito Lindo’ – Sunna Gunnlaugs


CARRIED ON A WARM, NORTHERLY BREEZE, Sunna Gunnlaugs’ previous trio release Distilled (2013) brought treasures aplenty from the pianist/composer’s native Iceland – a finely-crafted display of elegance, playfulness and imaginative free improvisation. Now, new album Cielito Lindo expands on those themes to deliver an hour-plus of 14 more engaging originals and arrangements, with bassist Þorgrímur (Toggi) Jónsson and drummer Scott McLemore.

What particularly appeals about the pianistic character of Sunna Gunnlaugs is her blend of influences which allude to Bill Evans’ and Bobo Stenson’s lyricism, yet also seem to incorporate the bright, tuneful openness of, say, Oscar Peterson and the kind of sparky, inquiring edge associated with Esbjörn Svensson. Title track Cielito Lindo has it all – opening, percussive rustlings and under-the-lid piano string shimmers unveiling Quirino Mendoza y Cortés’ charming, lilting Mexican melody upon which Gunnlaugs improvises with customary authority. Scott Lemore’s Compassion reveals the trio’s steady, delicate interaction with almost Bachian overtones; and the subtle bossa of the pianist’s own Endastopp becomes increasingly energized as it crackles to hard-edged drums and double bass.

The trio’s freely improvised ‘spin cycle’ thread continues, briefly punctuating the lengthier tracks with short settings Spin 8, 9 and 11 (maybe 10 is in the next load!) – and Dry Cycle communicates urgency through its high, ostinato piano chords, syncopated riff and memorable melody, followed by flamboyant improvisation. Seemingly obvious choice, Gershwin’s Summertime, is however reinterpreted beautifully, as fleeting snatches of the familiar strains are glimpsed through the mystery of skittering bass and drums; whilst amiable Workaround suggests e.s.t.’s blues-implied impudence.

Jónsson’s Vetrarstef possesses the yearning eloquence of a classic theme tune, its wintry folksiness occasionally redolent of acoustic Mike Oldfield; and Gunnlaugs’ Icelandic Blues snaps and crunches its way through seven glorious minutes which brim with smile-raising chromatic jollity, jaunty piano extemporisation and a thunderously percussive conclusion – a tour de force! Contrasting Tiltekt is exquisitely homely, its chiming melodies afforded the space to resonate; and All Agaze (another of McLemore’s gems) twists and turns unpredictably – ebullient grooving, yet with darker, Gustavsen-like moments. And to close… well, the songwriting of Tom Waits is frequently a source of jazz inspiration, and his Johnsburg, Illinois receives a faithful, picturesque outing from the trio, highlighting Waits’ penchant for a good melody.

Once again, Gunnlaugs and her trio achieve their discerning balance of tuneful accessibility, compositional distinctiveness and the constantly-undulating landscape of delicacy and high energy. A remarkable achievement – and a very fine album.

Released on Sunny Sky Records on 14 August 2015, Cielito Lindo is available at Bandcamp.


Sunna Gunnlaugs piano
Þorgrímur Jónsson double bass
Scott McLemore drums


Sunny Sky Records – 733 (2015)

‘A Moveable Feast’ – Mark Pringle


WHO WOULD IMAGINE that quite such a breadth of engaging, meaningful jazz creativity might be realised inside 32 minutes?

24 year-old British pianist Mark Pringle has increasingly been making waves with his singular and adventurous approach to music-making. When he was just 19, about to embark on a scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire, he appeared with his teacher, the splendid John Law, on duo album This Is; and earlier this year, he won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, as well as receiving an accolade to treasure from the sadly, recently-departed John Taylor, confirming him to be “an exceptionally gifted pianist and composer, and a remarkable improviser.”

Pringle’s inspiration for this debut album arose from his studies in Paris, drawing on cultural and naturalistic influences such as the work of Olivier Messaien and taking to heart author Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs of the capital: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Remarkably, in his writing for 12-piece ensemble, the pianist appears to ingest and then musically express the varietal sounds of the city, not unlike the way Messaien interpreted birdsong; and there are also hints of Ravel’s jazz inflections. It can all be found in opening number A Real Bombshell, whose skittering, shunting impressions might well reflect the chaos of a Paris rush hour. With string quartet at its heart, it has an attractive big band dynamism, offering a fantastic weave of brass and reed textures (reminiscent of Mark Lockheart’s evergreen Ellington in Anticipation) as Percy Pursglove’s shrill trumpet rises out of the clamour. Ode to the Trees evokes a moonlit woodland exploration, its quietly bluesy piano groove prompting an almost alarming crescendo of hoots, chatters and squawks from an ensemble heading towards the stature of Count Basie (with frissons of Carla Bley).

Bookended by the quirkiness of two miniatures, Happy Plants I & II (first, the strings’ playful pizzicato, and then an intriguing New Orleans/calypso hybrid), Hasha’s Theme seems to draw on Gershwin and Ellington – and the maturity of Pringle’s arrangement brings out both lush and jarring major/minor horns, fronted by Chris Young’s fabulously nonchalant alto. The Writer (Hemingway perhaps) is mischievous, its tentative first steps emphasising how well the strings and woodwind integrate; and both this and following track Through the Grate further reveal Mark Pringle’s knack of slowly unfolding a dramatic, trembling landscape with flecks and fizzes of orchestral colour, as well as sudden changes of tempi and dynamics (neither recommended for an iPod playlist along a dark country track!). And the final snippet, a windband-like And That’s OK, settles the equilibrium…… or does it?

Here is a recording which, in terms of composition, improvisation and overall musicianship, is exquisitely formed; yet it also alludes to many greater heights yet to be conquered. Released on Stoney Lane Records on 18 September 2015, A Moveable Feast is available from good jazz retailers and also at iTunes.


Mark Pringle piano
Percy Pursglove trumpet
Chris Young alto saxophone
Dan Sarjeant tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Alicia Gardener-Trejo bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, alto flute
Christine Cornwell violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Megan Jowett viola
Lucy French cello
Ben Lee electric guitar
James Banner double bass
Euan Palmer drums


Stoney Lane Records – SLR1954 (2015)

‘Range’ – Pete McCann


A FIRST LISTEN to the sparkling jazz-rock of guitarist Pete McCann may leave you pondering why, at least in the UK, his name is so unfamiliar. Respected as a first-call sideman on the New York scene, he has appeared on over 80 album recordings including those of Patti Austin, Curtis Stigers and the Mahavishnu Project; while in jazz his credentials include having worked alongside Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz and Brian Blade.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…


Pete McCann electric and acoustic guitars
John O’Gallagher alto sax
Henry Hey piano, Fender Rhodes, organ
Matt Clohesy acoustic and electric bass
Mark Ferber drums


Whirlwind Recordings – WR4675 (2015)